Extensive Reading - a Valuable Language Learning Opportunity http://english.unitecnology.ac.nz/esolonline/teachers/prof_read/jeanette_grundy/home_e.php
Jeanette Grundy ABSTRACT This report explores the language learning opportunities provided by Extensive Reading (ER) for ESOL students. It includes a literature review which is very positive about the role such an approach can play in both improving reading skills and developing learner language. It explores how extensive reading contributes to language proficiency particularly in the areas of vocabulary growth, knowledge of grammar and text structures, and writing. In addition, it reports on an investigation into student attitudes to ER and explores some of the implications this has for teachers in implementing effective programmes for ESOL students. BACKGROUND AND LITERATURE REVIEW Researchers of extensive reading programmes are very positive about the role such an approach can play in both improving reading skills and developing learner language. It has long been claimed that 'we learn to read by reading' and teachers in New Zealand schools are well aware of the importance of wide reading in the language development of their students. Researchers also claim a significant role for reading in the learning of a second language. Nuttall (1996, p.128) states, "The best way to improve your knowledge of a foreign language is to go and live among its speakers. The next best way is to read extensively in it." Day and Bamford (1998, p.34) present a summary of the results of research into twelve extensive reading programmes. These represent both ESL and EFL situations, are from a range of countries and are across all levels from primary to university, adolescent to adult. They are overwhelmingly positive about extensive reading and report gains in all language skills but particularly reading and writing proficiency, gains in vocabulary, although these were not statistically significant in all cases, and also gains in positive affect. Other more recent findings, Hayashi (1999), Renandya et al (1999) and Lao and Krashen (2000) confirm this view. Hayashi and Renandya both found a strong correlation between the amount of reading done and student gains. Lao and Krashen report significant gains in both vocabulary and reading rate made by students on a popular literature course compared with others enrolled in a traditional academic skills class. Their research also showed that students in the popular literature course had a much more positive view of the value of their course for learning English than the other group did. What is extensive reading? Extensive reading programmes encourage the reading of a wide variety of texts from a range of genre in the target language. It is important that the material read is well within the student's level of comprehension and that s/he can choose what is read. The
primary focus of extensive reading programmes is on reading, so that while there may be follow-up activities or monitoring by the teacher these do not deter the student from wanting to read. How does extensive reading promote language development? Reading is a complex task. Day and Bamford (1998, p.6) outline a cognitive view of reading. They talk about four interwoven strands which make up the reading process. First is the need for automatic word recognition which leads to the reader accessing her/his lexical knowledge. This information about the words is held in the mind long enough for comprehension to occur and the reader draws on the background experience they bring to the text to make sense of and build knowledge of what they are reading. But, "the mind has only a certain amount of processing capacity at one time. Thus, when fluent readers have to slow down and pay conscious attention to recognise words they find it difficult to understand the meaning of the sentence or paragraph in which the unknown or unfamiliar words occur." Day & Bamford (1998, p.15) To be a good reader...
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